Is birdsong of psychological benefit?

Many people assume that listening to a bird singing can lift their spirits, but no empirical evidence has yet to be compiled to confirm this belief. To come up with a definitive answer, researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of Surrey are undertaking a three-year project to see how birdsong can affect peoples' brains and behaviour.

The investigators are keen to see whether it is the sounds of the animals alone that reduce stress and enhance physical wellbeing - or if these feelings have more to do with other circumstances, such as walking in the countryside.

Eleanor Ratcliffe, a PhD student at the University of Surrey, said: "Anecdotal evidence suggests we respond positively to birds singing ... but we need to build up a clearer picture of how and why birdsong can be of psychological benefit."

Peter Brash, Ecologist at the National Trust, which is funding the study along with the Economic and Social Research Council, noted birdsong brings people closer to nature and links individuals to places and memories.

Dr Lance Workman, a Chartered Pychologist, said: "It makes a lot of sense to me that people should find birdsong calming. There is a theory within evolutionary psychology, sometimes referred to as the ‘savannah hypothesis’, which suggests we tend to find sensory input from nature that signals resources rewarding.

"This might include lush green foliage and light reflected off water, because these visual signals suggest resources that aid survival. Such signals are likely to include auditory as well as visual input.

"Given that birds tend to sing when they have territories worthy of defending and advertising to potential mates, our ancient ancestors may well have perceived birdsong as a positive signal from the environment. Hence we may be left with the legacy of finding birdsong comforting today."